Category Archives: Dusty Shelves

No One Can Pronounce My Name

Rakesh Satyal |  Fiction

three-hearts

This is the Deschutes County Library 2018 community read.  And so I really WANT to give it four hearts, but it doesn't quite slide into that category for me.  No One Can Pronounce My Name is the story of Indian-Americans living in Cleveland.  Some lived in India earlier in their lives; some were born here, all identified as Indian.  This was their story about how they maintain their culture (my mouth often watered as many social events were held around homemade pakoras and samosas); how they integrate; how they assimilate; how they befriend one another; how they deal with traditions and values and norms both American and Indian; what they gain and lose when they do assimilate.

It is not a heavy read … you will laugh and cry sometimes.  The main characters are in their 20s, 30s and 40s. They are gay, straight and questioning.  They desperately want friendships and intimacy, and don’t always find the vehicles to create meaningful relationships.  Their jobs and passions differ, and the overlap of the circumstances of their lives happen by coincidence, a chance, sharing a workplace or a moment in a bar with an unlikely other.

I learned something about the challenges of building a new social structure.  I chose three stars because I found the writing confusing at times and that made it a little less engaging than I had hoped.

If you live in Deschutes County, read this and go the workshops that are sponsored by the library and hit Bend High to hear the author speak.  If you are not local, yes, I still recommend it, just not with my full heart and enthusiasm.  It’s worth a peruse as you make your own decision.

 

 

A Separation

Katie Kitamura  |  Fiction

I made it half through this novel before I tossed it on the return pile. I think it is absurdly written.  Written in first person, our main character travels to a small town in Greece to find her estranged husband, who seems to have disappeared.  I could not wrap myself around her decisions and action.  In a very remote village, in this hotel, there are two desk clerks, one driver, one manager and only rarely, a guest.  I cannot come to terms with why she didn't tell these people she was concerned and looking for him.  His belongings were still in a room, which the hotel staff cleaned out for another guest.  So they also knew he was missing but she never asked anyone ... when did you see him last?  Did he say where he was going?  Had he gone to this place or that place?

Her actions were perhaps consistent in one way, even though they didn't make sense to me.    The main character has no name; an apt match for a woman with no emotions, no emotional depth at all.  I really didn't like her.

Then, a bit before I hung the book up, she spends something like 8 pages explaining to us a conversation between two of the staff members.  It was spoken in Greek, of which, she doesn't speak a word.  So she speculated from gestures, tones and facial expressions.  I found this egotistical, ungrounded and boring.

Something meaningful happens at the beginning of chapter 7, but I read that chapter and still quit.

Forget this one!

 

 

H is for Hawk

Helen Macdonald |  Nonfiction

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What a surprise!  I thought H is for Hawk was a novel.  I don’t know what my brain was thinking … that it was a posthumous replacement of H is for Homicide by Sue Grafton?  It was a shock to discover this is nonfiction, and it really IS about training a hawk, a goshawk.  I would never have picked this book off the library shelf if I knew these salient points.  What I DID know is numerous people recommended it to me.  And so I read it.

And I loved it.  Helen Macdonald is a superb writer, I believe, to write about a hawk – a topic I had NO interest in – with such sensitivity, insight, suspense, humor, vulnerability, awareness, and knowledge!  At one point she spends an entire page explaining different hawk hoods.  Seriously?  Whatever she didn’t know already, she researched very well.

This tale of her training her goshawk parallels T.H. White’s 1951 nonfiction book, The Goshawk.  A constant theme is to compare and contrast what White is doing with his goshawk, with Helen’s decisions in modern-day England about her own.  Yes, that is the same T.H. White who wrote The Once and Future King and The Sword in the Stone. 

Helen’s father dies early in the book, and I realize that my friends recommended H is for Hawk because of how Macdonald interweaves her grief into the tale of her goshawk.  Every 20 or 30 pages she talks about what is occurring with her grief, the memorial service, being with her mom, etc., and observes what she is learning and what parallels there are.  It is a very non-sappy approach to grief, and I think one readers can understand readily.  I am most profoundly impacted by a quote she shares from poet Marianne Moore:  “The cure for loneliness is solitude.”  Makes me think.

Yes, read it.  Perhaps it will surprise you as it did me.  Perhaps you will learn something about yourself, as I did.  Perhaps you will decide to train a goshawk

 

 

Shoe Dog

Phil Knight |  Memoir

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Shoe Dog is fun!  It certainly doesn’t read like an autobiography of a mucky-muck corporate exec, Founder, CEO. And yet, it is!  I love the way Knight laughs at himself, shares his faux pas and mistakes, his weirdness, his worries.  As a professional coach of entrepreneurs I was intrigued by his lack of articulated vision.  He talks about a “crazy Idea” but isn’t very clear. We eventually learn that it is buying shoes from Japan and selling them here.  But how fun to watch his crazy ideas evolve over the years.

Knight faces untold challenges.  He begins with $50 from his father in 1963 by selling shoes out of his Plymouth Valiant, and grossing $8000.  His memoir is humbling, seemingly unfiltered, refreshingly naïve.  He doesn’t do much of anything by the books.  I don’t know HOW he remembers most of these events from 1964, 65, and beyond, but he seems able to pull threads from his past and watch them reawaken.

Three hearts vs four was a tough decision for this book.  While I really enjoyed the tale Knight weaves for us and his engaging style, I became a little bored with his financial difficulties.  And not so much even bored with those, but I actually wanted to know more.  Every time he spoke about design challenges, or marketing challenges, or his social ineptness, I found myself leaning forward.  I wanted more on the breadth of his business – more about his retail philosophy, more about the athletes he signed, more about his organization structure and how he grew and inspired his employee base.  Knight gives us one sentence –  one lousy sentence – when he changes the name of his business from Blue Ribbon to Nike, after seven years.  I bet there was a bit of angst over that momentous decision!  Shoe Dog may also be a bit more interesting to us Oregonians than to mere mortals(!)  It is an Oregon story, down to its roots.

Of the reviews I read, I like Bill Gate’s best:

“A refreshingly honest reminder of what the path to business success really looks like. It’s a messy, perilous, and chaotic journey riddled with mistakes, endless struggles, and sacrifice. Here Knight opens up in a way few CEOs are willing to do. I don’t think Knight sets out to teach the reader anything. Instead, he accomplishes something better. He tells his story as honestly as he can. It’s an amazing tale.”—Bill Gates, one of his favorite books of 2016

 

The Orchardist

Amanda Coplin |  Fiction

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In many of my recent blog posts, I complain about shallow characters.  Not in The Orchardist!  You will know these characters so well, you will be able to predict their actions.  I don’t know for certain if that is good or bad, but these characters are rich and interesting!

At the turn of the twentieth century, William Talmadge tends apples and apricots in his orchard in rural Washington State.  One day, two young, scared, pregnant women appear on his land and, without speaking, Talmadge, Jane, and Della build a relationship. Of course, their lives are changed forever. And the story progresses from there, through the next 20 years.

This is 1900 in the Pacific Northwest.  Before roads, before a lot of civilization as we know it.  People live hardscrabble lives off the land.  I am again amazed that this is a first novel.  Coplin’s writing renders depth into a small and (often) picturesque slice of life.  Much as the characters in this novel are fiercely independent, so is Coplin, in her style.  I found myself particularly intrigued by her use of chapters.  When they need to be a paragraph long, they are.  When they need to be pages and pages, they are.  I also smiled at the names she uses.  Talmadge is always Talmadge, to everyone.  I had to check the inside flap of the book to see if Talmadge was his first name.  And his friend Caroline Middey is always Caroline Middey.  Every single reference, every time she appears, she is Caroline Middey.

I don’t want to give the story away, but it is not a roses and lavender story.  These folks, though incredibly successful at growing fruit, have hard social and interpersonal challenges.  There is birth and death and violence and love and loyalty and betrayal.  And always, apricots and apples and yummy food!

The Orchardist is a long book; it slows in places and speeds up in places.  But it is the type of book you will read in front of the fireplace (or your modern-day version) evening after evening, for a few days.  And you will think about these characters in-between your reading.  Yes, I am still elevating and warming my ankle, so this was a PERFECT book for my current adventure!

Thank you to my friend Melinda for suggesting this book to me (and us!)

 

If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?

Alan Alda |  Non-Fiction

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When a client is reading a book and finds it important enough to bring up in a coaching session, I take that to heart and read the book with my client; in this case, my client Chuck inspired me to read If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on my Face? by Alan Alda.

It's by Alan Alda, for heaven's sake.  Yes, you expect it to be funny.  And it is.  You expect him to talk about MASH, and he does, but only once. This isn't a “use your 'I' statements and paraphrase what you think you just heard” type of communication book.  No, this book is about real communication, and our responsibility as the speaker for all the communication that occurs or doesn’t occur.

What blew me out of the water is how much this book is about improvisational theater.  I have a passion for improv.  I have been learning and performing improv for five years and two months.  And Alda believes that improv is the single best training ground for how to communicate.  It's fascinating and inspiring!  He reframes the power of improv for me.

He talks throughout the book about empathy, which he defines as “having an instantaneous, primal awareness of another's inner state” and Theory of Mind, which is about understanding what is going on in another person's mind.  These are the critical components of communication: being aware of emotions and thoughts in the other.

This book is delightful to read. Now granted, I was sitting at home with an elevated sprained ankle while I read it, but it took me just over a day.  Yes, you will communicate differently after you read If I Understood You .....  And you will enjoy learning!

p.s.  a disclaimer.  In my posting on Against Empathy, I wrote about how rational Paul Bloom’s argument is for "compassion" and against "empathy."  But he defined empathy as feeling another's feelings.  I think Alda's definition of being aware of another's feelings is a very different and much more useful use of the word.

Read Alda’s book.  Have fun.  Maybe you (and I) will even communicate better.  Then again, maybe not.  Either way, I will watch the look on your face.

 

Little Fires Everywhere

Celeste Ng |  Fiction

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Little Fires Everywhere has a slow start; a shallow teenage beginning. I kept thinking it was a Young Adult book, though it isn't listed as such on the book itself.  So I did some research.  Sure enough, Ng’s first book, Everything I Never Told You, won young adult awards.  Little Fires Everywhere has been called a Young Adult genre book by Goodreads and other book-list publishers.  One reviewer called it “an adult book for young adults.”

In Chapter 9, however, 1/3rd of the way through, something happens.  A mother who abandoned her baby finds her with adoptive parents, and wants her baby back.  This story-line takes off like fireworks skittering across the yard.  The sense of shallow teenage-ness departs, and a heart wrenching story emerges with nuances and missed signals in relationships and situations.

However, it isn't enough to rescue this book. The crises are unrealistic and mostly unbelievable, including a fire that is never really explained, an abortion that doesn't ring true, and life-styles that are simply fictionalized.  The relationships are filled with lies and withheld truths, making them ultimately baseless.  The characters are one-dimensional. All told, I don’t recommend you add this book to your list.  It is neither profound nor believable.

I can’t figure out why Little Fires Everywhere is a book club read.  I will be interested to see what my book club members have to say.  If I gain any different perspectives, I will share them here.

 

 

 

 

Uncommon Type

Tom Hanks |  Fiction

four-hearts

I would not likely pick up a random book of short stories, as many of you know by now if you have been reading Dusty Shelves for a while.  But I heard about these short stories by Tom Hanks, just after seeing The Post, and I thought it was worth a try.  As you may know, Hanks collects typewriters.  In this collection of his writings (geesh, how many talents can one person have?) a typewriter plays a role.  Sometimes it is a small and insignificant role; sometimes a central and vital role.

I thoroughly enjoyed the short stories of Uncommon Type, and Hanks book comes with my full recommendation.  I kept picturing his quirky and somewhat crooked smile as I turned the page and began a new story.  His tales have a light quality, and he develops his characters well in just a few pages.  I liked the way his endings did not always wrap things up with big red bow.

If you are not a Tom Hanks fan, (which I assume must be possible!) you may not appreciate this book as much as I did.  I can’t quite separate the stories from the author.  I hope you enjoy!

 

 

Alone on the Wall

Alex Honnold with David Roberts |  Nonfiction/Biography/Sports

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I am a sucker for books about real-life and (sometime disastrous) hiking and climbing adventures.  A true arm-chair aficionado, I immerse myself into these adventures on K2, in Montana, in the Sierra Nevada, or in the back deserts of Southern Utah.  From the safety of my back deck, I experience and enjoy fascinating stories and adrenaline rushes.

Alone on the Wall is the most technical of these books that I have read.  You have to be interested in understanding a bit about the difference between a 5.12c and a 5.13a climbing route.  But if you are, you will enjoy the completely true stories of seven free solo climbs completed by the now 30-year-old and legendary Alex Honnold.  Free soloing is climbing alone without a rope, a partner, or hardware such as pitons, nuts or cams for aid in climbing or for protection.

Alone on the Wall is a mix of excerpts from Alex’s journal as well as commentary and research by his co-author David Roberts.  This book inspired me to watch various videos of Alex’s climbs, and his 60 Minutes interview, as I read about his absolutely astonishing climbs.  This book is not for everyone, but if you enjoy outdoor physical adventures, you will appreciate this one.  Even if you don't like these stories, glance at a copy of the book and check out the photos in the centerfold.  They will take your breath away.